By Larry Wigge
The mystery. The intrique. The risk.
Not many players are perfect. Most young kids need to physically grow because they are soon to be playing against men. That why it takes so many time to make it to the NHL. Scouting directors have often preferred to compare the draft to a crapshoot -- some even compare that at 18- 19-year-olds you are gambling that a prospect is on par with a surgeon or a lawyer, who has many more than two years of experience.
It has always been there in all of those thing go into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. For instance, so how about taking a gifted center like Alex Galchenyuk of the Sarnia Sting high in the draft? He had 31 goals and 52 assists in his rookie year in the Ontario Hockey League. But ...
In his draft year, he played in only two games and failed to get a point.
Some consider him a wild card.
Alex wrapped his left knee around the goal post: tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in a September 16 preseason game against the Windsor Spitfires. He was cleared by doctors to resume skating in February, but only played those two games. He did, however, return in time for the first round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, scoring two goals and adding two assists as Sarnia lost to Saginaw in six games.
Based on the upward trend of his evolution, Galchenyuk would be right up linemate Nail Yakupov as the No. 1 player available in the draft Friday night in Pittsburgh.
"We had our eyes on him all along," new Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said of using the third pick overall on Galchenyuk. "I met him a few times and I was impressed. He's a very worldly guy."
Said Galchenyuk, "I was so excited when they called my name that my heart was racing."
Galchenyuk's unique story goes beyond his injury, limited playing time and fitness fanaticism. Born in Milwaukee, when his father, Alexander, was in the midst of a 20-year pro career. Alex grew up all over the world as a hockey brat in the United States, Germany, Italy, Belarus and Russia.
The nomadic lifestyle of being a hockey player's son is evident.
"I can speak Italian, Russian and English obviously," Galchenyuk said. He considers himself an American. "Actually I used to speak French ... I think I'll be starting French lessons in a few days."
On the ice, he plays with the passion of a player who want to play in the NHL right now -- despite the hiccup of the injury and rehab last season.
"Never was there a time during rehabilitation where I wanted to give up," explained Galchenyuk. "I remember laying on the ice behind the net and thinking, 'Oh my god, I hope it's not serious,'
"I went to the locker room and was feeling my knee and it felt OK because in your head, you want to think it's nothing serious. When I found out, I wanted to get surgery as soon as possible so my goal was to come back and play this year.
"My dream is to play in the NHL. I want to play there as soon as possible, so you just can't stop and watch TV."
Like most players who have to sit out, they get to the point where they feel they can't help the club.
"I couldn't watch the games anymore," Galchenyuk continued. "Just walked away from the box. I couldn't watch the games anymore."
Galchenyuk never got discouraged or disheartened during the rehabilitation process.
"Never was there a time during rehabilitation where I wanted to give up," Galchenyuk said. "You need to go to rehab. It was tough for the first month. We drove to London every day, and that took like an hour. It's a long, slow process. When you're months away from skating and on crutches, you say, 'Oh gosh.' But my family, doctors and therapists help me a lot."
And the payoff was good in the end. Even though him timing may not have been the best when he returned, the skill stood out.
"I've learned a life lesson through this rehabilitation," Galchenyuk said. "I worked extremely hard in the gym and my skating actually got better.
"Being on the ice again was much easier than my work at the gym. It's more of a mental lesson where you have to think about your work off the ice."
Galchenyuk returned to North America when he was 15 to play midget hockey in Chicago in the hopes of being drafted into the OHL. He scored 44 goals and 43 assists in 38 games. The Sting were happy to oblige when they made the skilled, playmaking center the league's first overall pick two summers ago.
"A lot of people compare to a Marian Hossa or Evgeni Malkin type of player," Galchenyuk said.
"My strengths are my ability to make playmaking plays. My ability to see the ice. My hockey sense. My hands."
He must learn to shoot more, saying, "Should shoot ... but I pass. I must work on that."
He always had his dad alongside.
"Not a dad and son relationship at the rink," Alex said, shaking his head a little. "I made a huge mistake, when I called him dad at the rink. He's my coach ... and his has my future in mind . I learned long ago that he was harder on me than anybody else."
The nomad comes home -- at Chicago and Sarnia and the Montreal Canadiens.
"Maybe I see the world differently," Galchenyuk said of growing up in so many different countries. "I obviously feel half Russian because my parents are Russian but half American because I was born there and I love the States. I love the country.
"It was my decision who to play for all the way. I talked to my dad and he said make the decision as you feel comfortable and I felt comfortable with USA Hockey and the organization, how they treat their players."
The rehab is an ongoing concern. Never was his success in doubt -- he a real gym rat, he works closely with former NHL player Gary Roberts. Said Roberts, He's just a big, strong guy, and he trains extremely hard."
Alex Galchenyuk said the real player is yet to come.
"I didn't get to show what I'm about," he said. "I think I was really frustrated to be out of the playoffs, because by Game 5 or 6 I was just getting my game back. I was kind of moving the puck and playing my game."
Galchenyuk said he would prefer to wear two numbers in the NHL -- 94, the year of his birth, or 55, the number his father wore as a pro.